Victory: It was the best year ever. Our automobile dealership shattered every sales record. Profits were exceptional. We even set a record for fewest customer complaints. It seemed that we could do no wrong. After the final results were tallied, we congratulated each other and handed out bonus checks. By the next day the celebrating was over and it was back to work as usual.
That’s it? No vacation? No party? Unfortunately, there was work to be done. We faced a new year with tougher goals to achieve. It would mean working harder than ever with new employees to train and more problems to solve. We simply had no choice. So, instead of enjoying a period of elation, I struggled with mild depression. Why? Why would success be followed by despair?
Despair: We’ve seen it effect entertainers, athletes, preachers, parents, teachers and friends. A surge of extraordinary success is followed by a period of despondency and anguish. Christmas is supposed to be a season of joy, gift giving and celebrating the birth of Christ. Yet, December is also a time of increased melancholy and loneliness. Why? It doesn’t make sense… or does it.
Are extraordinary successes always followed by bouts of despair? Of course not, yet it happens frequently enough to ask questions and seek guidance. In the Bible, I discovered supportive answers through a prophet of God named Elijah.
Victory: Elijah challenged 850 prophets of Baal to a dramatic showdown before the entire nation of Israel… “Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar but without setting fire to it… Then call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” (1 Kings 18:23-24) Wow! A dramatic showdown!
For several hours, the prophets of Baal put on quite a show of chanting and dancing but nothing happened. Elijah began to taunt them… “You’ll have to shout louder… perhaps your god is in deep thought! (27) At one point the dancing became so frenzied they began to cut themselves with knives but all for nothing. The sacrifice lay peacefully on the altar undisturbed by fire.
Then it was Elijah’s turn. “…he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons… Then he said, ‘Fill four large jars with water and pour the water over the offering…’” (33) He had them fill the jars again and pour them over the offering again and then a third time until the water overflowed the altar and filled the trench. Now, what kind of show would Elijah put on?
There would be no show… instead; the people of Israel would witness a miracle! Elijah walked to the altar and simply prayed. “Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the ditch.” (38) What a spectacular display of God’s awesome power! What a triumph!
Despair: The Mount Carmel victory should have caused a great celebration… but instead; Elijah was soon fleeing for his life. Depressed and afraid, “…he went on alone into the desert, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die.” (19:4)
What happened? Scripture refers to a furious Queen Jezebel seeking to kill Elijah but after facing 850 prophets why would he fear one angry queen? How could such a victorious prophet of God lose his confidence and faith in himself and God so completely that he prays for death?
At one point, I assumed the Mount Carmel showdown was a major turning point for Elijah but I was wrong… so wrong! Next week’s column will show the real turning point that allowed Elijah to go from victory to despair to a strengthened faith. In the same way, my own struggle with despair became a major turning point that would enrich my faith and literally change my life.